Tribute to our Nurse Friends!

We welcome this guest post by Shannon Constantinides, MSN, NP-C, FNP, UCHealth Primary Care,  PhD Student, Florida Atlantic University.  Shannon also contributed the content on Jane Georges’ Theory of Emancipatory Compassion

Shannon Constantinides

In trying to explain to my husband (an osteopathic physician) why Nurses’ Week is an important week, I asked him, “Do you ever notice that I have my “friends” … but that I also have my “nurse friends?” He looked back at me, a bit quizzically, shrugged his shoulders and said, “yeah…? I guess so?” In a conversation a day or so later, he said, “Now that you’ve mentioned it, I guess I have heard you mention your Nurse Friends.” He then gave me a somewhat perplexed look and said, “I have friends who are physicians, but I don’t think I have Physician Friends. At least not in the way you talk about your Nurse Friends.” You’re right, my dear, you don’t.

From the inception of the profession, nurses have been working together, side by side in the figurative and literal “trenches.” Whereas our physician colleagues are trained to be the lone wolves, or as I’ve heard it described, “the captain of the ship,” nurses are from the onset of training, trained to work as part of a team.

This Nurses’ Week, I set an intention to celebrate and honor all my Nurse Friends. To me, Nurses’ Week is a reminder about the joy we find in work – not just the experiences that arise from patient care – but also joy we find from the relationships we’ve built with one another along the way.

In 2018, I had the honor and privilege to interview Dr. Jane Georges, Dean of the Hahn School of Nursing at the University of San Diego and the author of the Emancipatory Theory of Compassion. During the course of our conversation, we got onto the topic of finding joy in work and Nurse Friends. Until Dr. Georges pointed it out, I hadn’t given much thought to the concept of Nurse Friends. My mom, a 30-year NICU RN, had Nurse Friends. Dr. Georges’ mother was also a nurse who had Nurse Friends. “NurseFriends” was simply a word we’d always known, because we both grown up with the knowledge that there are two kinds of friends: your friends, and your NurseFriends.

In discussing ways in which we can recapture joy in work and joy in nursing, Dr. Georges circled back to the concept of NurseFriends and the deep connection nurses share with one another; the connection that allows us to find so much meaning in what we do. “I call it the nurse-nurse bond,” Dr. Georges said, “It’s knowing that we can’t do it alone, which is one of the most beautiful parts of nursing.” In recalling some of the most healing environments in which she’d worked, Dr. Georges commented on the presence of joy, respect, and connection with other nurses.

“We just had this crew,” I mentioned as I reminisced about a group night-shift NurseFriends I worked with during my tenure working in an emergency department. Dr. Georges agreed, “I think the idea of the nurse-nurse bond, or NurseFriends, is worth exploring… how do we build back that community where we’re not adversarial to each other?” I think that the answer lies within ourselves and within the community of our discipline: building up our NurseFriends to strengthen one another, to strengthen the profession, to strengthen ourselves, and ultimately, to strengthen the care we give our patients.

Two years ago, I had to tell a NurseFriend who’d become my primary care patient that I’d found lymphoma on her MRI. That was one of the worst days of my professional career. I remember sitting in my office, sick to my stomach. Delivering bad news to a patient is never easy; delivering bad news to a NurseFriend will break your heart.

This NurseFriend is doing great. Her cancer is in remission. She’s healthy. She’s now the clinical manager of my primary care office. I’m lucky: we caught her cancer early, got her great treatment, and I get to see her smiling face every day.

To all of my NurseFriends, thank you for sharing your light with me. You are my heros not just during Nurses’ Week, but every week!

Inspired by Virginia Henderson

Henderson when she was a research associate at Yale (from https://nurseslabs.com/virginia-henderson/)

I first met Virginia Henderson when I was a student at Yale School of Nursing. She was a guest in one of our courses, and she started the class by saying, “I’m a million years old and deaf as a doornail, so speak up!” She was a force, and I loved her from the start. I had the opportunity to meet with Virginia at her home in New Haven, CT, where she showed a group of us her porcelain box collection. She even gave me one! Virginia was at our graduation from YSN in 1993 – in full academic regalia. The last time I saw Virginia was at her home in a retirement community in Connecticut. I consider myself fortunate to have spent time with such an influential nurse. Although I had no idea at the time, her work and thoughts on nursing shaped my own. Her definition of nursing

The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge. And to do this in such a way as to help him gain independence as rapidly as possible.

resonates with me because in my work with people who have diabetes I see the need to help people toward independence. Diabetes and other chronic diseases require knowledge, skills, and understanding so that people can make daily decisions and perform daily tasks to manage their disease and live well. There are times when people need more – education, direct care, or support – and times when they can function independently. The goal is always to help people toward independence and away from a mentality of “compliance” or “adherence.” I think Virginia would support the language movement in diabetes, where we are working hard to get away from judgmental, provider-centric language and move toward person-centered and strengths-based messages.

I also identify with Virginia’s beliefs on nursing as a discipline with a distinct body of knowledge and her emphasis on nursing education and nursing research. Ironically, I was a student at Yale School of Nursing and now teach at Teachers College Columbia University. Both schools had an impact on and were influenced by Virginia Henderson. It’s amazing to me that I have felt her presence throughout my career, despite not being directly connected to her work.

I sometimes wonder what Virginia would think if she were alive today. Is her definition of nursing being upheld? What would she think of nursing practice, nursing education, and nursing research? Are we honoring her legacy in our work today? It’s important for nurses to be aware of those who’ve gone before us, their work, and their influence on our discipline. Some of those nurses are still with us, and my hope is that we will learn from them and be shaped by them as we move nursing forward. When we practice, teach, and study, how often do we think about our own definition of nursing? Are we being true to that definition?